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Bracey v. Lancaster Foods, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 30, 2018

MICHAEL BRACEY Plaintiff,
v.
LANCASTER FOODS, LLC, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          RICHARD D. BENNETT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Michael Bracey (“Plaintiff” or “Bracey”) brings this action against Defendant Lancaster Foods, LLC (“Defendant” or “Lancaster”) alleging violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C §§ 2601 et seq., Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq., and Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act (“FEPA”), Md. Code, State Gov't § 20-266(a). (Am. Compl., ECF No. 17.) Currently pending before this Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss and Compel Arbitration and for Attorneys' Fees. (ECF No. 21.) The parties' submissions have been reviewed and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss and Compel Arbitration and for Attorneys' Fees (ECF No. 21) is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         When reviewing a motion to dismiss, this Court accepts as true the facts alleged in the plaintiff's complaint. See Aziz v. Alcolac, Inc., 658 F.3d 388, 390 (4th Cir. 2011). Plaintiff began working for Lancaster Foods, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Guest Services, Inc., as a Yard Jockey in 2008. (ECF No. 17 at ¶ 1.) Prior to being hired by Lancaster, he was required to enter into an arbitration agreement with Guest Services (the “Agreement”). (Id. at ¶ 71.) Specifically, the two-page Agreement states that “[i]n return for Guest Services considering my application for employment, and in consideration of my employment with Guest Services should Guest Services choose to employ me, I consent to arbitration of any Employment Related Claim . . ..” (ECF No. 21-2) (emphasis added). The Agreement provides that in order to request arbitration, a party must submit a written Notice to Guest Services' Director of Human Resources. (Id.) Further, any request must be submitted “within one year of the date that the act complained of occurred . . . regardless of any longer limitations period that may be provided by any federal, state or local statute.” (Id.) Guest Services would then cover the cost and expenses of the arbitrator, with other costs, expenses, and attorneys' fees allocated as provided by the National Rules for the Resolution of Employment Disputes of the American Arbitration Association. (Id.) The Agreement clearly states in capital, bold letters “THE RIGHT TO A TRIAL OR TRIAL BY JURY IS OF VALUE. YOU MAY WISH TO CONSULT AN ATTORNEY PRIOR TO SIGNING THIS AGREEMENT. …” (Id.)

         Six years after beginning his employment with Lancaster, on August 11, 2014, Bracey suffered a work related injury to his leg. (ECF No. 17 at ¶¶ 11-12.) After undergoing surgeries and physical therapy over a period of six months, Bracey finally returned to work on February 15, 2015 on light duty. (Id. at ¶ 15.) In late March, he began physical therapy again. (Id. at ¶ 16.) Subsequently, on May 19, 2015, he was discharged by his physical therapists “at the Medium Physical Demand Category limiting his ability to lift weights that were more than 37-57 pounds.” (Id. at ¶ 18.) The next day Bracey visited his personal physician, Dr. Greg Osgood, M.D., who determined that he had trauma arthritis in his arm and recommended that he continue to work on light duty for an additional six months. (Id. at ¶ 21.) On June 9, 2015, however, an independent medical examiner evaluated Bracey and released him to “full duty without restrictions.” (Id. at ¶ 27.) Despite the independent medical examiner's determination, Bracey continued to work light duty per Dr. Osgood's recommendation. (Id. at ¶ 30.)

         Later that month, in a letter dated June 18, 2015 and received by Bracey on June 23, 2015, Lancaster's safety manager informed Bracey that Lancaster had received the independent medical examiner's report, and unless the company heard back from him by June 26, 2015, he would be deemed resigned. (Id. at ¶ 32.) On June 23, Bracey contacted the Director of Human Resources, who told Bracey that he was to return to work “without restrictions or risk being resigned.” (Id. at ¶ 33.) When he clocked in for work that day, the safety manager told him that he was no longer being accommodated for light duty. (Id. at ¶ 35.) Bracey responded that he was physically unable to work full duty, and his doctor had also placed him on work restrictions. (Id. at ¶ 36.) He also asserts that pursuant to Lancaster's grievance procedures, he asked the safety manager for an immediate meeting with the head of Human Resources and the Vice President to discuss his accommodations and light duty request. (Id. at ¶ 39.) However, the meeting never occurred. (Id. at ¶ 42.)

         Bracey did not report for work the next two days. (Id. at ¶¶ 46-49.) Mid-day on June 26, 2015, he received another letter indicating that unless he reported to work that day on full duty, he would be deemed resigned. (Id. at ¶ 49.) He reported to work, but again insisted that he could not work full duty. (Id. at ¶¶ 51-52.) On June 29, 2015, he asked for another meeting pursuant to the grievance procedures, to no avail. (Id. at ¶ 57.) On July 7, 2015, he received “a letter from Lancaster Food attributing the false allegations to him that he had resigned.” (Id. at ¶ 61.)

         Over five months later, on or around December 12, 2015, Bracey filed a Charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). (Id. at ¶ 67.) Bracey also informed the EEOC that he would like to participate in EEOC sponsored mediation with Lancaster. (Id. at ¶ 68.) Lancaster declined. (Id.) Subsequently, the EEOC was unable to conclude that there was reasonable cause to believe discrimination had occurred. Accordingly, Bracey received a Right to Sue letter from the EEOC on February 5, 2017.[1](Id. at ¶ 7.)

         On April 28, 2017, Plaintiff filed suit in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County, alleging interference and retaliation under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C §§ 2601 et seq. (Counts I, II); discrimination, failure to accommodate, and retaliation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq. (Counts III-V); disability discrimination, wrongful discharge, failure to accommodate, and disability retaliation under the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act (“FEPA”), Md. Code, State Gov't § 20-266(a) (Count VI-VIII); and breach of the contract of good faith and fair dealing (Count IX). On June 30, 2017, Defendant removed the action to this Court based on federal question jurisdiction, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

         On July 11, 2017, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss and Compel Arbitration on the ground that Plaintiff Bracey had signed the Arbitration Agreement. (ECF No. 10.) Plaintiff then moved to stay the proceedings pending receiving his files from the EEOC, which this Court granted. (ECF Nos. 11, 13.) After receiving the file, on November 17, 2017, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 17.) On December 4, 2017, Defendant filed the instant Motion to Dismiss and Compel Arbitration. (ECF No. 21.)

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Defendant Lancaster Foods has filed the pending Motion to Compel Arbitration pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), 9 U.S.C. §§ 1 et seq. The standard of review on a Motion to Compel Arbitration pursuant to the FAA is “‘akin to the burden on summary judgment.'” Galloway v. Santander Consumer USA, Inc., 819 F.3d 79, 85 (4th Cir. 2016) (quoting Chorley Enterprises, Inc. v. Dickey's Barbecue Restaurants, Inc., 807 F.3d 553, 564 (4th Cir. 2015)). Although the Fourth Circuit has so characterized the standard of review, the pending motion will not be converted to or treated as a motion for summary judgment. On the contrary, the remedies available to a defendant moving to compel arbitration are limited to a stay or dismissal of the action. See Choice Hotels Int'l, Inc. v. BSR Tropicana Resort, Inc., 252 F.3d 707, 709-10 (4th Cir. 2001) (“[T]he FAA requires a district court, upon motion by any party, to stay judicial proceedings involving issues covered by written arbitration agreements [citing 9 U.S.C. § 3] . . . . Notwithstanding the terms of § 3, however, dismissal is a proper remedy when all of the issues presented in a lawsuit are arbitrable. [citing Alford v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 975 F.2d 1161, 1164 (5th Cir. 1992)].”) Therefore, motions to compel arbitration “shall [be] grant[ed] … if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Rose v. New Day Financial, LLC, 816 F.Supp.2d 245, 251-52 (D. Md. 2011).

         A party seeking to apply the FAA must demonstrate four elements: “‘(1) the existence of a dispute between the parties, (2) a written agreement that includes an arbitration provision which purports to cover the dispute, (3) the relationship of the transaction, which is evidenced by the agreement, to interstate or foreign commerce, and (4) the failure, neglect or refusal of the defendant to arbitrate the dispute.'” Galloway, 819 F.3d at 84 (quoting Rota- McLarty v. Santander Consumer USA, Inc., 700 F.3d 690, 696 n. 6 (4th Cir. 2012)). Therefore, “although arbitration has a favored place, there still must be an underlying agreement between the parties to arbitrate.'” Adkins v. Labor Ready, Inc., 303 F.3d 496, 501 (4th Cir. 2002) (quoting Arrants v. Buck, 130 F.3d 636, 640 (4th Cir. 1997)). The Supreme Court has directed courts to “apply ordinary state-law principles that govern the formation of contracts” and “federal substantive law of arbitratbility.” Hill v. Peoplesoft USA, Inc., 412 ...


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